The Rohingya people are Muslim Indo-Aryan peoples from the Rakhine State, Myanmar. According to Rohingyas and some scholars, they are indigenous to Rakhine State, while other historians claim that they migrated to Myanmar from Bengal primarily during the period of British rule in Burma, and to a lesser extent, following Burmese independence in 1948 and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. International media and human rights organizations have often described Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, while origin of that term with relation to the United Nations is still unclear. As of December 2016, 1 in 7 stateless persons worldwide are Rohingya as per United Nations figures on statelessness.
What led to this crisis?
The 2012 Rakhine State riots were a series of conflicts between Rohingya Muslims who are majority in the northern Rakhine and ethnic Rakhines who are majority in the south. Before the riots, there were widespread and strongly held fears circulating among Buddhist Rakhines that they would soon become a minority in their ancestral state. The riots finally came after weeks of sectarian disputes including a gang rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by Rohingyas and killing of ten Burmese Muslims by Rakhines.
From both sides, whole villages were “decimated”. According to the Burmese authorities, the violence, between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and up to 140,000 people have been displaced. The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the region. On 10 June 2012, a state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing the military to participate in the administration of the region, Rohingya NGOs overseas have accused the Burmese army and police of targeting Rohingya Muslims through arrests and participating in violence.
However, an in-depth research conducted by the International Crisis Group shows that both communities are grateful for the protection provided by the military. A number of monks’ organisations have taken measures to boycott NGOs which they believe helped only Rohingyas in the past decades even though Rakhines are equally poor. In July 2012, the Burmese Government did not include the Rohingya minority group in the census — classified as stateles Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982. About 140,000 Rohingya in Myanmar remain confined in IDP camps.
In 2015, to escape violence and persecution, thousands of Rohingyas migrated from Myanmar and Bangladesh, collectively dubbed as ‘boat people’ by international media, to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand by rickety boats via the waters of the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates about 25,000 people have been taken to boats from January to March in 2015. There are claims that around 100 people died in Indonesia 200 in Malaysia, and 10 in Thailand during the journey. An estimated 3,000 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or swum to shore and several thousand more are believed to remain trapped on boats at sea with little food or water. The crisis has been sparked by smugglers .International Human rights organization walk free and amnesty international has called the killings of Rohingyas a crime against humanity. According to a report by VICE NEWS NEW York office, it has been said that the government of Myanmar and the military have a hand in the violence, moreover they are not willing to punish the culprits.
“Some hid in rice fields, others ate only leaves while making the long journey by foot across the border into Bangladesh”-Mohemad, one of the survivors.
Main talking points-.
1) Why is Aung San Suu Kyi ignoring the issue?
Surprisingly, Nobel peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent and a mere spectator over the issue. When vice news international met Mr Akbar, a prominent leader in the rakhine state, he said that Aung is supporting the government and the Buddhists and she is not willing to comment on the issue. “Aung San Suu Kyi has already said that she is no longer a human rights activist or a humanitarian, but a politician …,” says Mathieson Bruno of CNN IBN.
2) Should not the United Nations peace keeping force intervene in the issue before it is too late?
3) Why did the government of Bangladesh push back the asylum seekers in January of 2015?
4) if United Nations is not willing to intervene, should not the Indian government, as a country with significant Muslim population intervene in the issue?
I hope that the United Nations peace keeping force intervene in the issue and living conditions of the Muslims in Rakhine state become better in 2017.
The writer works for Imphal based Voice for Change and can be reached at sekharjitnam59@ gmail.com